An article in the latest issue of Ragan’s Grapevine discusses how junior staffers could be prepared to handle sophisticated media relations.
The article argues that although maturity is required for the task, this does not necessarily mean age. It could mean personality, gumption and natural talent.
Jon Lieb, managing director of New York-based Thirty Ink Media & Marketing, is quoted as saying: “I think you have to hire junior staffers who have the right personality make-up and proactive aggressiveness. You can’t teach it. Either you have it, or you don’t. It doesn’t matter if the person is 24 or 34.” This coming from a man whose company consists of himself and two junior staffers he hired right out of college.
The article also quotes Ali Randall of Metzger Associates in Boulder, Colorado: “A level of maturity is required, but it has little to do with years or experience. Some people just shouldn’t be on the phone because they don’t have the maturity and presence to pitch the media, or interact with clients. However, some people show us that they have that ability from Day One.”
Once the right junior staffers are hired, however, the article points out that proper training and practice is still required.
Amanda Frederickson, founder of PR Amanda in Chicago, is quoted saying: “”I think it is important to recognize a major problem in many agencies today. To ensure a greater profit volume, agencies are sourcing out the majority of media relations and account services to junior staff, and are assuring clients the same level of results that would be attained using more seasoned employees. This is a problem, as many junior staffers are simply not receiving the training they need to pitch media properly. And I completely understand the frustration from the reporter’s point of view. They want to obtain as much information in the shortest amount of time possible, and ill-prepared junior staffers are often unable to handle the situation properly.”
The article cites Emily DeLizza of Robin Leedy & Associates Inc. of Mount Kisco, New York recommending that junior staffers be given a short introductory media relations or professionalism course, and to teach them to have “the highest ethical standards and professionalism” which she often finds lacking.
She is further quoted saying: “Hiring a new employee should be viewed as an investment for the company. Time should be taken by the senior level staff to give constructive criticism. As a young professional, I learn from my own experiences just as much as I do from watching others I admire within the company. ‘Lead by example’ couldn’t be more true than it is in public relations.”
Neil Vineberg, president of Vineberg Communications in Westhampton, New York is quoted in agreement: “”Not everyone is good at pitching and follow up. A junior staffer needs to pitch to get good at it. We run our staff through a step-by-step primer on how to write a pitch, target media and follow up.”
The article cites the more hands-on approach of Gary Baker, communications director of AnswerThink & The Hackett Group: “I work with my agency staff, scheduling weekly training sessions keyed to general topics and specific pitches. They hear how I talk about things, and then we role-play pitches, so I can hear how they do it, and make corrections, suggestions and additions. We usually do it as a group-kind of a pop quiz approach… No, it isn’t easy to put junior staff on the spot, but it’s better to start them off well prepared and give them the opportunity to do their first few pitches on me. [Equip them] with training wheels, so to speak.”
Indeed, good communication should start in the coaching and mentoring process within the organization itself.